50 Terrific Blackboard Tips for Teachers

Education both online and hybridized has benefited greatly from the contributions of the course management system Blackboard (and, more recently, Angel). No matter the subject, teachers have found ways to use the program to make their classes run so much smoother. And if you attended an online university to become an educator, you’re most likely familiar with Blackboard or Angel. But maneuvering the interface from the other side of the screen can seem a little intimidating at first, and that’s where advice from several different educational institutions comes in handy! Beyond the basics, they illustrate some of the best streamlining tips and tricks that Blackboard has to offer. However, please keep in mind that such an ever-changing technology may render many of these tidbits obsolete – or only viable in certain versions. Should any of the ideas presented here prove incompatible, contact the school in question’s tech support/computer services center for more personalized instruction.

  1. Remind students to update their contact information: Students who fail to enter in an e-mail address that they don’t check regularly will probably miss out on any important announcements and assignments.
  2. Save as many files as possible in HTML format: Doing so will decrease download time for students, helping them get to their assignments quicker. Students whose home machines lack the necessary software will also appreciate this gesture.
  3. For embedded videos, use Vimeo: Vimeo password protects its videos in order to prevent unwanted downloads and take up no quota space when embedded, making it a perfect choice for teachers wanting to incorporate multimedia into their lessons.
  4. Hide Unneeded Courses: Blackboard allows educators to keep older classes hidden in order to maintain some semblance of order and organization, and University of Pennsylvania provides quick instructions on how.
  5. Post pictures: Upload a current photo to the “Staff Information” section in order to facilitate familiarity with students, encouraging (if not requiring) them to do the same.
  6. Spice things up with a course banner: Jane McCarville recommends a few free websites where educators can add a bit of decorative flair to their Blackboard pages.
  7. Print restrict PDFs in order to prevent cheating: The technical staff at Northeastern University show off a couple of different ways for teachers to create unprintable PDF files that discourage cheating on online assignments.
  8. Slap it on a smartphone: Blackboard users who love their smartphones should download the application and keep up with their classes on the go.
  9. Delete extraneous menu items: Leaving menu buttons that will not be used should be deleted in order to prevent any student confusion.
  10. It is possible to read more than one thread at once: Open up multiple discussion threads simultaneously by hitting “Show Options,” choosing which ones to follow, then clicking “Collect.”
  11. Use the wiki function for sign-ups: Keep a digital record of students signing up for presentations, office hours, event planning and more by posting times in the wiki and allowing them to place names next to the preferred times.
  12. Take advantage of customizable options: To ease navigation and maximize comfort, Blackboard boasts numerous features allowing users to customize their displays for a more positive experience.
  13. Set aside time to chat: Blackboard offers a chat function, and some teachers may like the idea of taking a bit of time every week to stay online and talk with any students who have questions.
  14. Keep an archive: Back up files and clean house by archiving the forums through Blackboard’s dedicated function. Jane McCarville provides a quick, painless walkthrough for educators.
  15. Internet Explorer 8 requires “compatibility view”: Many known technical issues with Blackboard can be solved by running the program in compatibility mode on Internet Explorer 8.
  16. Ensure browser compatibility beforehand: A broader tip from the previous, it is generally a good idea to test out which browsers support Blackboard best and notifying students about any findings.
  17. Take surveys: The survey feature allows educators to poll their classes regarding their opinions about the courses themselves and the topics at hand.
  18. Don’t ever underestimate the value of ALT tags: Blackboard’s gradebook function provides users with ALT tags that allow them to figure out which student’s progress they’re looking at – saving them valuable time.
  19. Keep files a manageable size: Students on slower internet connections will appreciate shorter videos and smaller image files that get the point across without taking up too much time.
  20. Take advantage of time-release: In order to prevent anxiety or confusion for students, use Blackboard’s time-release function to post content as needed rather than granting them access all at once.
  21. Prepare for natural disasters: Many schools who subscribe to Blackboard or Angel have used it as a remote method of conveying timely information about inclement weather or health hazards such as H1N1.
  22. Emptying an internet cache may help solve some issues: No matter one’s browser preferences, a few Blackboard issues can be solved by clearing the cache and the history for a fresh start.
  23. Transcribe all video and audio files: Students with painfully slow internet connections or sensory disabilities will greatly appreciate the availability of transcriptions for audio and video files.
  24. Create a safer campus: With Blackboard, schools can keep watch over every corner of their facilities in order to monitor any potentially hazardous situations and respond as quickly as possible.
  25. Download the gradebook: On days when Blackboard seems overrun with technical issues, having the extra copy on hand serves as a relieving time-saving strategy.
  26. Be consistent: Naming systems for different files should be similar for both teachers and students in order to make finding essays or other academic content easy.
  27. Attend a Webinar: Blackboard routinely holds Webinars for educators and their institutions in order to show them how to use any new features and work the older ones at their highest possible potential.
  28. Blog!: Asking students to set up their own blogs helps them connect better with the material and one another, facilitating discussion outside the classroom.
  29. Keep a running technical discussion: Devote one thread on the discussion forums to recording and solving any technical errors that crop up during the course. Doing so will streamline communication and help students keep track of what they can do to fix any issues themselves.
  30. Keep better track of attendance: Some educational institutions have successfully used Blackboard to automate their attendance system and keep more accurate records of student involvement.
  31. Blackboard sometimes logs out the idle: Leaving Blackboard open may result in being logged out, but it’s nothing a little cache clearing won’t fix.
  32. Be aware of formatting issues: Curly quotes and em dashes cause formatting issues when copied and pasted from Word into Blackboard. UT Martin suggests unchecking “Replace Straight Quotes with Curly Quotes” and “Symbol Character” under Word’s Format>AutoFormat>Options selections to avoid errors.
  33. Go fully online – or hybridize: Online and hybrid education models helped Littleton High School pique student interest and increased their graduation rate. Doing so helped kids accomplish their goals while working at their own pace.
  34. Merge with Turnitin: Teachers who use Blackboard can merge their accounts with Turnitin, which allows them to keep track of assignments and check for any possible plagiarism. Northeastern University’s tech department explains how.
  35. It’s possible to clear formatting: If text just doesn’t look right, hit the “Clear Formatting” button and start over from the beginning. Errors can happen when copying and pasting from another source – especially Word.
  36. Communicate clearly with groups: Set up rubrics and clearly convey expectations to any students participating in Blackboard groups. Be sure to stay alert regarding any stragglers, perhaps by having them track individual or collective milestones.
  37. Run a course health check regularly: Do a weekly course check in Blackboard, which checks the viability of every available link, character appearance and anything else that may impede productivity and achieving class goals.
  38. Join every student group: When breaking students off into Blackboard groups, join all of them as a member for quick access to their progress and process.
  39. Students who drop before class starts are not automatically deleted from the roster: Educators will have to manually delete any students who drop a course from their Blackboard roster, but fortunately the process isn’t terribly time-consuming or difficult.
  40. It’s possible to leave private comments in the gradebook: Tell students what areas need improvement – or add a few positive words of encouragement – by using the private comments feature in the gradebook. Just be sure to triple-check that they are left private!!
  41. Additional faculty and staff need to be manually added: Teaching assistants, other faculty members, deans, principals and anyone else needing administrative privileges in a Blackboard course need manual addition – a simple, quick and painless process outlined on the available link.
  42. Run peer assessments through quizzes: Use the quiz function to get student input on everything from how effectively their peers participated in groups to reports on their progress and projects.
  43. Track views: Gage student involvement and interest in different materials (and check to see how many are holding off on their assignments!) by paying attention to page views. Case Western Reserve University provides valuable instructions on how.
  44. It is possible to download the gradebook into Excel: Some teachers may prefer calculating their grades offline through Excel. Blackboard does allow them to export (and import!) their gradebooks to and from the program.
  45. Set up Wimbia classrooms: The Blackboard Tips wiki outlines how to get groups set up with Wimbia classrooms for multimedia exchanges to enhance their projects.
  46. Check out these applets!: Intended for Blackboard 5.6 or higher, David Carter-Tod at Wytheville Community College provides some excellent applets to help teachers get the most out of their experience.
  47. Assess student wiki participation: Like checking hotlink clicks and assignment views, teachers can also view student participation in any wiki projects as well.
  48. Don’t print the frame!: Valuable information can be lost and paper can be wasted if one uses the default print setting on Blackboard. Paul D. Chapin at Amherst College shows how to make sure this does not happen in different browsers.
  49. Assign groups easy names: In Blackboard, keep team organization simple by naming them after numbers or letters – and if the students want something a little more customizable, just place the original nomenclature in parentheses.
  50. Document packaging saves so much time! Use a zip or compression tool to transfer files to and from Blackboard without wasting time constantly uploading and downloading. Case Western Reserve University explains how.

Thanks to Blackboard, thousands of educators have streamlined their classrooms and made coursework that much more accessible to their students. It is an invaluable digital tool for the online and hybridized classroom for all involved. Just be sure that these tips conform to the version used at the school. Should they fail to work on a specific version, give the computer services or tech support department a little ring – they will be happy to help so long as they’re approached politely!